Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Shabbat Experience in the Chabad

On the Road Again
We were on our way to the prayer and dinner. Amanda's flying to Botswana in a few months. Discussion of this led to discussion of airlines. Of course talk of Malaysian airlines occurred, and then Josh brought up the Korean airline accident.

Josh "Yeah, the Korean Airline plane accident was on the news, but no one proofread the information. So they said the names of the pilots were 'Wi Tu Lo,' 'Bang Ding Ow,' and 'Ho Lee Fuk.'" We all started laughing except Amanda. 

Amanda "Wait... I get the last one. But can someone explain Wi Tu Lo and Bang Ding Ow?"


Mama L. "Well, these are the names of the pilots, so the first one is about the plane...We too low?"
Amanda "What?"
Me "The plane was flying too low!"  
Amanda "Ohhh.... And what about Bang Ding Ow?"
Me "Those are noises you make when you crash!"
Josh "Bang! The word that follows So! Ding a drop of golden bread! ♫"

Nice to Meet You

The Chabad Amanda goes to set up so that men sit on the left and women sit on the right. Girls are required to wear skirts (knee length or longer) and men wear yamakas. Amanda's parents began introducing us to some of the adults, and one Jewish man wearing a bright cranberry yamaka and whose skin was tan, thick, and dotted with several moles took particular interest in me. (Later, he told me he fought in Vietnam aging him to about 70.) His name's *Harry.

Harry "Where are you from?" 
Me "San Jose, California."
Harry "Hmm?"
Me "California-"
Harry "Oh, California! Not somewhere like... South Korea or Vietnam?" (He chuckles to himself.) "Well I know many Asian women." 
Me "I bet you do." (I smile big and chuckle to myself.) (Sometimes I can't control my sarcasm.)

Thank God prayers started. 

There were around 15 women and 15 men. Between the rows of seats was a six foot tall wooden book shelf serving as a divider. Apparently, women are not allowed to sit in the same seats as men because they may make the chair dirty (if they're on their period). The Rabbi began singing in Hebrew. He had brown hair atop his head and cascading down his face in a thick beard. In place of a yamaka was a black hat, and he wore a long coat. I tried to follow along with the (many) songs in the prayer book. It was exciting trying to keep up (luckily, the symbols were also written in sounded-out-english). 

Following the prayer, we went to the dining room and sang more. We drank grape juice out of tiny Daisy brand cups. Then, the Rabbi recommended we wash our hands. The sink was located outside; it was a faucet that flowed into a large black marble bowl. Next to the faucet, there was a long handled cup. I turned on the sink and let water flow about half way. Then, I poured water over my right hand 3 times and over my left hand 3 times as well. 

When I walked back to the dining table, some adults began haphazardly covering loaves of bread with paper napkins. Amanda's dad explained to me, "We drank the wine first. The napkins are so that the loaves of bread don't get embarrassed! We don't want them to think they're not important." 

There was more singing, and we ate the bread. (I ate a tiny piece because the gluten free thing). Then, we went to get food. I was so excited to eat the salad and beef patties because I was ravenous at this point. In addition, I really wanted some Diet Coke, so I began walking up to the other side of the table. Unfortunately, Harry caught up to me.

"You know, I love Asian women." (Oh, dear God in heaven.) (I smiled awkwardly). "I work with a girl who's an immigrant from Vietnam. Genius! Fullbright scholar. Went to Stanford. Grad school at Duke. Post-doc at Harvard. But she has no street smarts!" 
"Oh, haha.. wow," I replied.
"Her name's CJ. Her actual name's Cynthia but she HATES that."
Then he started telling me a story about how they play tennis. "She has an arm like Serena Williams! But sometimes she just falls over."
"Oh no!" 
"Yeah, you know I've been to Vietnam!"
"For vacation?" I ask.
He stares at me dumbfounded. "No! I was in the war!"
"Like, in the seventies?" I ask.
"Yeah, well the treaty was signed in 75 so early 70's. But anyway, I can tell you lots of stories about the war!" (Please don't.) (He didn't because more prayers were about to happen.)
"Oh, wow..." I feigned interest.
"What your name anyway?" 
"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA." (He actually tilts back and cankers out these howling HA's.) 
"You're literally the rudest human I've ever met!" (Just kidding, I didn't say that.) "Why are you laughing?" (I had to ask.)
"Oh, it's nothing." (He chuckles). "Well, you should eat."
"I was going to." (I chuckle because I'M STARVING. Then, I reach past him, steal the Diet Coke bottle, and race away.) 

I wasn't the only one who got subtly smacked by racism. Amanda's dad was verbally tickled as well. He was talking to two adults who asked where he was from.

"I'm from Russia."
"Oh, no! Really? You don't seem to have the accent," said the well-meaning husband.
"He does. I can definitely hear it," the wife interjected. 

Stump the Rabbi
Everyone introduced himself/herself and then asked the Rabbi a question. Adib asked a good question about Jewish laws and whether they can be changed. Others asked about forgiving dead souls and what makes a soul so evil that after death, relatives should pray 12 months instead of 11. I asked about the significance of a Rabbi's beard. (He was kind of tipsy at this point and told me "It's like a uniform... or a costume!" An old man at the table looked at him quizzically. "You know, like how you can tell a firefighter from a police officer.") And Amanda's mom asked about whether g-d will be okay if she doesn't clean the entire house because Mr. Broken Leg (Josh) is making life more difficult to handle. She and Rabbi's wife started gabbing about cheerios getting everyone! The Rabbi's wife "Yeah, my kids like to spread their... love everywhere." She has six kids and definitely knows the feeling. "I'd say do your best. It's the effort g-d will see. I tell my kids before tests, 'Put in the effort. As for the grade, worry about that later.'" Rabbi "I think you just gave her a free pass!" Then, Amanda asked about how evolution fits into the story of creation. (Bio nerd!)

"If Jews believe the earth is 5,775 years old, how does our religion explain dinosaurs?"
Rabbi "Good question- this can be explained because God created a mature earth. You know dinosaur bones can be carbon dated to millions of years old, it's because Earth already had them. Like, when God created the Earth, you could take a tree and cut the rings because the tree was already create thirty years old. It was mature." 

Then, Maddie asked, "Who decided it was 5,775 years old."
Rabbi "God created on the first day 5,775 years ago-"
Rabbi's wife "That's not what she's asking. She knows that creation began that long ago, but who.. kept track."
Rabbi "Oh.... well... in the same way, it's like, how do really know today's Friday? But that's... hmm..."
Old man "I think she stumped the Rabbi!" 

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